Building Capacity Among Financial Agents

A Human-centred Approach to Technology-led Financial Inclusion


BTPN, one of Indonesia’s major banks, has a wide portfolio of products and services targeting a diverse set of audiences. BTPN’s business began with a focus on pension services and over its 58 year history, it has specialised in providing pension and other services to low income segments. This has included efforts to empower small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with micro loans and other offerings designed specially for small businesses. Recently, BTPN’s business has expanded beyond this scope to include other markets and income segments and now includes products designed for urban audiences and high net-worth individuals.

However, even with expanding scope, BTPN has been able to retain a nuanced understanding of the needs of Indonesians with relatively lower incomes living in rural and semi-rural areas. BTPN WOW, a branchless banking product is aimed at this target group and seeks to include large unbanked populations across Indonesia in the financial mainstream. It delivers banking services through an agent network and a mobile platform. The WOW network includes over 150,000 agents, one of the largest networks of financial agent in the world providing services to a customer base of close to 3.4 million customers.

This is financial inclusion at a truly massive and national scale. With a mobile platform compatible with simple feature phones through the USSD protocol along with a large sales force, BTPN has been able to penetrate deep into some regions in unbanked and underbanked Indonesia. Operating an agent network at this scale has come with its own challenges — largely connected to keeping the agents motivated and informed to actively and satisfactorily service customers.

Phase 1 — Looking at the Needs of Agents with a New Lens

An ideation workshop at BTPN’s offices in Jakarta

Last year BTPN along with the World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) floated a request for proposals to look at two key challenges faced by BTPN WOW agents, namely lack of motivation and lack of knowledge, and ideate around solutions that involved aspects of gamification. (Gamification essentially refers to using game and game-like mechanics in real life situations, usually towards solving challenges.)

Quicksand was awarded the contract and we deployed a Human Centered Design methodology to seek solutions to these challenges. Quicksand had been exploring the potential of gamification, conducting small experiments for several years and for us it was the perfect opportunity to try out some of the new thinking we had developed over the past few years.

Our process began, as it usually does, with context immersion. We spent time with the BTPN head-office team, their on-ground sales force, the agents themselves, as well as the customers. We realised soon that BTPN WOW is a complex ecosystem consisting of various moving parts and apart from understanding agent needs and behaviours it was important for us to also develop intuition for other parts of the ecosystem. For example, BTPN WOW agents are directly managed by WOW area representatives (WARs) with each WAR managing anywhere between 20 to 80 agents. These WARs are usually the first and only contact that most agents have with the BTPN sales infrastructure. It was quite clear from the beginning that any promising solution would almost certainly include WARs as a target group. Similarly it was important to understand other factors such as mobile usage patterns, challenges around data connectivity and cost, the capacity and aptitude among agents to provide financial service to customers, and more.

Quicksand developed a gamified solution set to address the twin challenges of lack of motivation and knowledge. The solution set was envisioned as a mobile platform and was called the Agent Empowerment Platform (AEP). It consists of three core components:

  1. Providing agents more Transparency into their own performance along with transparency into BTPN’s plans for the agent in the short and medium term.
  2. Building agent capacity to enable them to provide financial services to their customers. Capacity building was a broad consideration and involved efforts beyond simply increasing product knowledge among agents to include technical capacity, sales capacity etc.
  3. Building a community of practice among agents who were operating largely in isolation from each other. Apart from the agents themselves expressing a desire to interact with their peers, it was evident that cross-pollination of ideas among agents would empower the whole eco-system.

Our first engagement ended with the outlines of a mobile platform that included a set of gamified mechanics derived from the three components of the solutions set mentioned above. This mobile platform which had been envisioned, now needed, an iterative design and development phase before it could be implemented on-ground. Apart from the platform itself, Quicksand also focused on identifying marketing and outreach efforts that would need to accompany the release of the platform to ensure that the platform landed effectively with the user groups.

Phase 2 — Scoping and designing the Agent Empowerment Platform

A discussion with a BTPN agent and BTPN ground staff

BTPN engaged with Quicksand again this year, looking to now implement the Agent Empowerment Platform. Quicksand picked up from where it had left off in the previous phase and began the exercise of more rigorously evaluating the ideas and mechanics that had been articulated in the previous phase. As we had anticipated, the move from planning to implementation was one of streamlining. The first task was to understand the constraints under which this platform needed to be implemented. Largely we had to balance three factors:

  1. The needs of the agents and the BTPN sales support structure — the previous phase had largely focused on this factor.
  2. The business needs of BTPN that had evolved since our last exchange in 2016 and involved such constraints as a shorter timeline than we had expected and the need to integrate into the empowerment platform a new set of offerings from BTPN to the agents. These offerings, collectively called Business in a Box, are an evolving set of new products and offerings that provide the agents opportunities to make higher incentives.
  3. The technical constraints under which this platform had to be built. Since large numbers of BTPN WOW agents either did not have a smartphone or were unable to effectively use one, it was important that the mobile platform was delivered on feature phones as well as on smartphones. Feature phones were targeted via the USSD protocol, for which Quicksand worked closely with nFrnds, who are the leading USSD provider in the world. Apart from nFrnds we also worked with BTPN’s own IT teams as well as with IceHouse, a front end mobile design and development firm.

Using the three filters mentioned above, the scope of the Agent Empowerment Platform was significantly tightened. Quicksand proposed that the engagement focus on delivering the design and scope of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that could be delivered within the timelines stipulated by BTPN along with a roadmap that detailed future developments on the platform. With all stakeholders on board, Quicksand began the detailed and iterative process of creating feature sets that would reflect the needs of the agents by providing them with more transparency, building their capacity to serve their customers better and fostering a community of practice among them.

Quicksand conducted multiple design and research sprints which involved in-depth field immersion and co-creation with the users of the platform. Across the design sprints Quicksand developed and refined the platform design, which included such elements as information architecture, mobile platform wireframes, clickable prototypes, platform skinning examples among others. In parallel we also developed the outlines of marketing and branding efforts that would support the platform.

Eventually, our efforts culminated in two sets of outputs with one set focused on the platform itself and another set focused on supporting activities around the platform. The platform set consisted a definitive set of screen wireframes, backend and technological infrastructure design, a set of guiding principles for the AEP and the outlines of the USSD feature set.. The supporting set included such components as the marketing and branding guidelines of the platform, the activation strategy for the platform, and the roadmap of continued development on the platform.

As our engagement concluded, it overlapped with the development cycles being undertaken by the three key technology partners: BTPN IT, nFrnds and Ice House. Currently the technology partners are working towards developing a deployable MVP that will soon be released across the user groups.

In conclusion, both phases of engagement followed a traditional design process adapted to match the context of the WOW ecosystem. We insisted on an iterative process across several sprints of designing and refining and this has been the backbone of the Agent Empowerment Platform. It is the constant interaction with the user groups and other stakeholders that solidified our ideas and what eventually gives us the confidence in the value of the MVP to its user groups and to BTPN.